How to Get Permanent Marker Out of Clothes & Fabric

While permanent marker is created to be just that – permanent, it is possible to get Sharpie or ballpoint ink marks out of your clothes. The secret? Hand sanitizer!

Why do markers stain?

The ink in permanent markers is designed to penetrate cellulose (the main part of the cell walls of plants), effectively dyeing cotton fabrics or paper. The added color can be permanent—and it’s supposed to be. But, if something breaks up the ink, the right bleach product can remove the stain.  

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is very effective at breaking up ink, especially when it is formulated into a hand sanitizer gel. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer easily penetrates the weave or knit of a textile without evaporating too quickly and helps break up the ink stain so it’s easier for the appropriate bleach product to completely remove the stain.

Tips for removing permanent marker stains

If something breaks up a permanent marker stain, such as alcohol-based hand sanitizer, it’s easier for the right bleach product to remove the stain.

Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach should never be used full strength to treat a stain. Instead, use a bleach and water solution made with ¼ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach added to ¾ cup water. Apply the bleach and water solution to the stain and then immediately machine wash the item using detergent and ⅓ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach. 
 
Keep reading to learn more about removing difficult permanent marker stains.

What you need

Steps to remove permanent marker from white bleach-safe fabrics

  1. Pre-treat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer

    Use enough to saturate the stain. This will start to break up the ink, and you will see the stain begin to lighten. Let the hand sanitizer gel stay on the ink stain for a few minutes before continuing.

  2. Pre-treat with bleach

    Pretreat again by soaking the stain in a bleach and water solution made with ¼ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach added to 1 gallon of water for 5 minutes.

    Tip

    Always avoid bleaching wool, silk, mohair, leather and spandex.

  3. Machine wash

    Immediately wash the item per instructions on the care label with detergent and ⅓ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach.

  4. Air dry

    Air dry and check to make sure stain removal was a success.

Steps to remove permanent marker from items with color or white items with spandex

  1. Pre-treat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer

    Use enough to saturate the stain. This will start to break up the ink, and you will see the stain begin to lighten. Let the hand sanitizer gel stay on the ink stain for a few minutes before continuing.

  2. Apply Liquid Clorox 2® for Colors to the stain

    Use the cap to apply the Clorox 2® product directly to the stain and gently rub it in. Allow the Clorox 2® product to stay on your fabric for 10 minutes.

    Tip

    Do not let Clorox 2® dry out on the fabric. Use a timer to monitor the pretreating time.

  3. Machine wash

    Wash the item in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and more Clorox 2® for Colors 3-in-1.

  4. Air dry

    Air dry and check to make sure stain removal was a success.

Remember, it’s important to avoid bleaching clothing that contains spandex—and any items with wool, silk, mohair or leather. That’s why we recommend washing white items with spandex with Clorox 2®.

Steps to remove black felt tip pen ink from colored fabric

  1. Pre-treat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer

    Use enough to saturate the stain. This will start to break up the ink, and you will see the stain begin to lighten. Let the hand sanitizer gel stay on the ink stain for a few minutes before continuing.

  2. Apply Liquid Clorox 2® for Colors to the stain

    Use the cap to apply the Clorox 2® product directly to the stain and gently rub it in. Allow the Clorox 2® product to stay on your fabric for 10 minutes.

    Tip

    Do not let Clorox 2® dry out on the fabric. Use a timer to monitor the pretreating time.

  3. Machine wash

    Wash the item in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and more Clorox 2® for Colors 3-in-1.

  4. Air dry

    Air dry and check to make sure stain removal was a success.

Steps to remove black felt tip pen ink from white items that don't contain spandex

  1. Pre-treat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer

    Use enough to saturate the stain. This will start to break up the ink, and you will see the stain begin to lighten. Let the hand sanitizer gel stay on the ink stain for a few minutes before continuing.

  2. Pretreat with bleach

    Pretreat again by soaking the stain in a bleach and water solution made with ¼ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach added to 1 gallon of water for 5 minutes.

  3. Machine wash

    Immediately wash the item in hot water with detergent and ⅓ cup Clorox® Disinfecting Bleach.

  4. Air dry

    Air dry and check to make sure stain removal was a success.

It’s important to note that ink from felt tip pens is very concentrated and commonly bleeds onto fabric. So, it may require you to repeat the treatment multiple times to get the stain out.

Steps to remove ballpoint pen ink from colored or white fabrics with spandex

  1. Pre-treat with alcohol-based hand sanitizer

    Use enough to saturate the stain. This will start to break up the ink, and you will see the stain begin to lighten. Let the hand sanitizer gel stay on the ink stain for a few minutes before continuing.

  2. Apply Liquid Clorox 2® for Colors to the stain

    Use the cap to apply the Clorox 2® product directly to the stain and gently rub it in. Allow the Clorox 2® product to stay on your fabric for 10 minutes.

    Tip

    Do not let Clorox 2® dry out on the fabric. Use a timer to monitor the pretreating time.

  3. Machine wash

    Wash the item in the hottest water recommended on the care label with detergent and more Clorox 2® for Colors 3-in-1.

  4. Air dry

    Air dry and check to make sure stain removal was a success.

Check out this article to learn how to remove gel pen ink stains.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can permanent marker be removed?

Permanent marker stains can be tough to remove from clothes, but it's not impossible. The most effective method to remove permanent marker from clothes depends on the type of fabric and the type of marker used – and Clorox has you covered. By following the above instructions, you should be able to remove permanent marker from clothes with no problem.

What are the do’s and don’ts for removing marker stains?

Do use alcohol-based products to break up ink before applying a bleach product. Do keep items out of a hot dryer until you know the stain is completely gone. Do repeat the pretreatment step if necessary. Don’t forget to pretreat a second time with the appropriate bleach product after pretreating with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

How do you get marker stains out of upholstery?

Permanent marker stains are very difficult to remove from soft surfaces like fabric, carpet and upholstery because of the nature of the ink—it’s supposed to be permanent.  But, if you can machine wash an item (sorry carpet and upholstery), and pretreat the stains with hand sanitizer before pretreating with the appropriate bleach product, the chance of removing the stains improves.  However, laundry products aren’t appropriate for use on carpet or upholstery because they require too much water for a thorough rinsing.

How do you remove marker stains from other surfaces, like a kitchen counter?

Clorox® Clean-Up® Cleaner + Bleach can remove marker stains from hard, bleach-safe, nonporous surfaces.

How do you remove dried marker stains?

Markers are designed to dry quickly. So, stains, in general, are dry because of the nature of the staining material. The steps for removing permanent marker stains apply to both fresh and older stains.

Can milk remove ink stains?

If you use milk to rinse a fresh ink stain, it may reduce the amount of stain you have to treat. But, the lactic acid in milk is not enough to break up the ink for complete removal. It’s better to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to pretreat ink stains before using the appropriate bleach product to get the stain all the way out.